Online Food Activism
By Helena Bottemiller Evich:
"Siegel’s petition (on pink slime) was one of the early examples of social media dramatically influencing the food system and, ultimately, food policy. But now these online consumer revolts are a norm that’s upending the power dynamic between corporations and consumers. In the two years since the frenzy over LFTB, online petitions hav e helped pressure Starbucks to drop red dye made from crushed bugs from its strawberry Frappuccino. Kraft has removed artificial dyes from some of its children’s mac & cheese products. Chick-fil-A removed high fructose corn syrup and certain additives from its buns and sauces while pledging to source poultry from birds raised without antibiotics by 2019. Chipotle has posted a list of its ingredients that contain GMOs on its website. And just last month, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors for the first time disclosed ingredients for some of their beers online.
In a different era, a stern letter from an angry customer might be answered by a corporate form letter, and that would be the end of it. But now consumers can leverage hundreds of thousands of like-minded people in a short amount of time, and companies are finding that it’s smart business — and politics — to respond quickly and decisively.
“I think pink slime changed the way people saw the power of social media, the power of a single mom’s voice,” said Melissa Musiker, vice president of nutrition policy at APCO Worldwide, a public relations firm that has helped food and beverage companies navigate social media crises. “People didn’t take Bettina Siegel seriously. They just thought she was some random mom. It doesn’t work that way anymore.”
The phenomenon spans beyond just nutrition — Bank of America recently gave up a plan for debit card fees, and Change.org helped propel publicity for Trayvon Martin — but food and beverage companies have been a particularly hot target. Three of the top seven most popular petitions of all time on Change.org are about animal welfare in meat production, and more than two dozen food-related petitions have each earned tens of thousands of signatures, many of them hundreds of thousands.
“Food is definitely one of the most popular topics on the site,” said Megan Lubin, a Change.org spokeswoman, who noted that such petitions have been increasing in recent years due, in part, to the “deep media saturation” that Siegel’s petition achieved.
For the food industry, accustomed to a slow-moving regulatory process, the social media revolts are causing nothing short of whiplash. The pink slime furor, for example, grabbed national attention and changed federal policy in a matter of days." (http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=1271367A-592A-43F3-93F8-6801A8693714)